I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Cannon, to the House. I record my annoyance that this question is being answered by the Minister of State on behalf of the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government rather than on behalf of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform because the impetus for the question arises from a specific commitment given by the Minister, Deputy Howlin, to this House but when I tabled this Adjournment matter through the Seanad Office this week that Department refused to accept it and insisted on it being transferred to the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government. I am annoyed about that because while it is an environmental issue it arises from a commitment given by the Minister, Deputy Howlin, in his capacity as Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. It refers to a project that will spend up to €2.7 billion of taxpayers’ money and therefore if any issue deserves the attention and the oversight of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform I would have thought it was this one.
I want to put on the record comments made by the Minister, Deputy Howlin, on 22 November 2011. My colleague, Senator Darragh O’Brien, who has been proactive on the issue of the proposed wastewater treatment plant for north Dublin, asked the Minister, in the public expenditure context, about the proposed plant for north Dublin. In his response the Minister stated:
The issue of the greater Dublin drainage scheme has been raised on a number of occasions by colleagues of the Senator representing the constituencies directly affected. I am giving an undertaking now to the Senator that I will have it investigated.
There is a propensity for engineers to have big schemes. They much prefer to build reservoirs than fix leaks. There is nothing sexy about fixing a hole but construction of a multi million euro dam and piping water for miles is a big event. I prefer to fix the leaks. I have given the Senator an undertaking that I will have the matter investigated.
Members will agree that is a specific commitment to examine the issue given by the Minister, Deputy Howlin, last November. More than six months later I raise this matter to ask if that investigation has taken place and regret that the Department refused to answer it.
As the Minister of State, Deputy Cannon, will be aware, the proposal is for a monster wastewater treatment plant in north Dublin. Three preferred sites have been selected – one in Cloghran, Clonshaugh, another in Newtowncorduff and one in Annesbrook, east of Ballyboughal and west of Lusk. The proposed plant, should it get the go-ahead from Government, will produce 1,000 litres of sewage per second. Initially, it will be the same size as the plant in Ringsend but it will double in capacity over a 20 year period to cater for a population equivalent to 700,000 by 2040.
I objected to this plant as part of the consultation process, as did my colleagues and, I understand, colleagues of the Minister’s party also, mainly for the reason that Clonshaugh in my constituency is an entirely inappropriate location for a plant of this scale but also because having one massive plant is misguided and does not make sense from a value for money point of view. It would make more sense, and is best practice environmentally as well as economically, to have smaller, localised plants which could be phased in over time. That would make much more sense.
From the point of view of Clonshaugh in Dublin north east, there is huge local opposition to this plant for a number of sensible and logical reasons. The proposed site is immediately adjacent to over 2,500 homes in the Clonshaugh, Priorswood and Darndale area, all of which are within a one mile radius of the site. It is also very close to other housing developments in Belmayne, Clongriffin and Clare Hall, and there is no doubt that building a massive wastewater treatment plant so close to housing will lead to an intolerable reduction in the residential amenity for those householders. Also, it does not make sense in that there are area plans for the redevelopment of the north fringe area in the coming years and these will compromise and undermine future plans for the area. It would also damage the economic potential of the locality which as I am sure the Minister is aware, with its close proximity to Dublin Airport, is an area of strategic importance not just to Fingal but to all of Dublin and should be planned in that context. It would most likely render redundant the proposals to develop the neighbouring IDA site as a high tech hub and, in doing so, would prevent the creation of thousands of badly needed jobs in north Dublin.
It is proposed that the outfall from the plant would flow into the sea at Portmarnock, Baldoyle and Malahide, an area that is environmentally protected in Baldoyle and is of huge importance both in terms of the environment but also tourism in that it has great potential which could be tapped into and developed as a marine tourism area.
eHaving one monstrous plant does not make any sense. That is why my colleague Senator Darragh O’Brien asked previously that the proposal be examined in terms of public expenditure. It is not too late for this to be checked out. The Minister committed to investigating the matter such that the taxpayer could be sure of a satisfactory cost-benefit analysis. It worries me that, six months later, this does not appear to have been done, despite the project having been valued at €2.7 billion. I am quite concerned about this.
I am most familiar with the Clonshaugh area, and Senator O’Brien has raised difficulties associated with the other proposed locations in north Dublin. Clonshaugh is an entirely inappropriate location for the plant. I ask the Minister of State, whom I know will give the stock reply from the Department, to ask the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform to follow up on the commitment he gave to the House in November and ensure the matter is investigated in terms of public expenditure.